Sermon for November 17, 2013
Text: Luke 21:5-19
By the time Jesus and his friends were there, a temple had stood on that spot in Jerusalem for over 500 years, but the building that they were looking at was a relatively new construction built under the authority of Herod the Great, and by all accounts it was a spectacular building to behold. Towering above the rest of the city, the whole Temple plaza was about the size of 6 football fields. Its walls stood 100 feet high, and were made of stones that could be 15 feet to 40 feet long and weigh up to 500 tons. Lining the edges of the temple mount were long porches or walkways, each one with a roof that was supported by three rows of columns standing 37 ½ feet high. Outside of the temple building there was a court paved with marble, and the temple itself sat on a foundation of immense slabs of marble covered in gold. I am telling you all this because I want you to have at least a vague understanding of what today’s Gospel passage is referring to. When the disciples are talking about the beauty of the temple, it is because the temple was one of the grandest buildings of its time. Not only was the building beautiful, it was also the center of all Jewish worship, As Jesus once said when he was 12 years old it is his Father’s house. So when Jesus tells his followers that there will come a time when the temple will be no more, it was a shocking, perhaps even a devastating thing for them to hear.
So they say to Jesus “what will be the signs that this is going to happen?” “Tell us what to look for so we can be prepared, maybe they thought they could even stop this awful thing from taking place if they were only able to see it coming. I understand where the disciples are coming from. I am constantly trying to do this, I am always imagining possible outcomes of my actions, I’m constantly trying to predict what the future holds, and when I am really unsure of something I will desperately beg for a sign, something to guide my way to help me get the outcome that I want, if only I could see the future clearly then I could manage my life so much better. I don’t know why, but it seems so much easier to focus on tomorrow than it is to focus on today. Staying present, in the moment, can be so difficult to do, but in a way that is what Jesus is telling his followers to do. Telling them not to worry about what they are going to say, because the holy spirit will tell them.
Way back in Luke Jesus teaches a lesson about anxiety. He tells his listeners that they should not worry, that God will be with them, that even the birds of the air and the lilies of the field are looked after by God. And he asks them “can any of you, by worrying, add a single hour to your span of life?” The answer of course is no. Worrying gains us nothing. Today’s Gospel relies on that teaching. Jesus wants his disciples to stop looking to control what cannot be controlled, but instead to live faithfully and to testify to that faith through their lives and their words always trusting that God will give them what they need when they need it.
And in 70AD, less than 40 years after the event in today’s Gospel reading the temple does get destroyed. And the followers of Jesus are certainly persecuted, and there certainly are wars and revolutions and people who say they are the true messiah, all of this happens, but it is not the end yet. And now here we are, almost 2000 years later.
And the question is, what is Jesus saying to us? What are our great temples? Our beautiful but impermanent temples that we tend to rely on instead of God?
Things happen in our own lives, and we feel blindsided by them, and we wonder why. There are days when I feel as if one thing is piling on top of another, like I will be buried underneath the burdens that I carry, and I struggle trying so hard to fight them, but sometimes there is little that can be done. It is in those times, when things are truly dark that we absolutely must cling to God alone. All of the things that we have to make us feel secure, all the cars, and houses, all the money, and all the church buildings, our feelings of self-reliance and even our relationships, they will all pass away eventually. And if we spend our time having anxieties about all those things that lack any real permanence then we are merely distracting ourselves and giving ourselves greater worry than we need. Because our one true source of strength that will stay with us when all that we have falls away, that one source of strength is God, God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ. And when we let God be the source of our strength, we find our lives constantly being made new. We find that our relationship with the world and all that is in it, is put in its proper order. When God is our strength and our focus, we are able to throw ourselves, everyday, into this world like it is both the first and the last day of our lives. We are called by Jesus Christ, by God, to love fully, to give generously and to forgive completely and with God as our strength and guide we are able to do just that.
Today we are celebrating the baptism of Shea Ann. Baptism is a true sign of our commitment as Christians to listen to, and have faith in the Holy Spirit working in our lives. In Baptism we are made new by God, and with that we are set upon a journey to live out our new identity as one who is marked as Christ’s own forever. Thankfully though, this is not a journey we make alone, we all promise to support the newly baptized. For even though only God can be our true strength, it is together that we become Christ’s body. And as such we are God’s hands and mouth in the world. I think we are all aware that bad things are going to happen in our lives, but when we stop wasting our energy in worrying about what is to come, we free ourselves to live faithfully and generously, we free ourselves to be true testaments to the great power and love of God in all that we do and say.
Christ does not promise that we will not be faced with suffering, in fact he says the exact opposite. But he does promise that we are not alone, that we can endure and that “By our endurance we will gain our souls."
The italicized portion was added for the 10a.m. sermon